Welfare Tsar Dame Louise Casey has called on shoppers to stop stockpiling amid coronavirus panic and to donate to their local foodbank instead.
It comes as foodbank bosses braced for a surge in demand as families lose income amid economic turmoil triggered by Covid-19.
That could coincide with a drop in volunteers who fall ill or – with many foodbanks staffed by older people – are advised to stay at home.
Foodbanks are running low on vital products amid the outbreak.
Dame Casey, who was appointed by Boris Johnson last month to lead a review into tackling rough sleeping – said it was time for "everybody in our country to step up" and think of those worse off than themselves.
Britain's biggest foodbank network, the Trussell Trust, also urged people to check with their local foodbank what items they need.
Dame Louise, who has advised both Tory and Labour PM's on welfare issues, told the BBC: "This is the test of our generation. It's also the test of the fact that there will be thousands of people facing real difficulty because of this virus.
"People in low-paid jobs, people on zero-hour contracts, all these football matches that have been cancelled, all these social events that people aren't using taxis for, all of the people in low-paid jobs are actually facing real difficulty."
The Government advisor warned that Universal Credit was inadequate for helping provide for thousands of people who would need to sign on for the first time as a result of the virus – who would be forced to wait five weeks for a payment or take out a loan.
She said: "We don't at the moment here have a welfare system that's fit for that type of purpose."
Food banks say they have a shortage of basic items because shoppers are stockpiling as fears grow over the spread of coronavirus.
Dame Louise also urged the government to explore “rental holidays” for those who could be left struggling to pay their bills as shifts dry up.
She said: “Still, still to this day no changes made in the Budget last week to that where people if they actually hit the uppers right now because of this virus they will have to wait five weeks or take a loan out which they can ill-afford to pay back."
“It pushes people into hunger, and in my view homelessness.
“It’s great that some of the mortgage companies are thinking about mortgage holidays, but given how long we know this is going to go on, what about rental holidays?
“What about local authorities? Actually what does the social care budget need? What about all these private sector companies that pay people such a low amount of money to go into the homes of our parents and look after them? This shows just how precarious all of these systems are.”
“I’m really worried about it and concerned the government needs to take greater action and be much clearer with people where they stand currently on their benefits and we plan for more people to be pushed into debt, and into hunger and homelessness.”
Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie said: “Time and again over the past decade, foodbanks across the UK – aided by a generous public who have donated time, food and money – have stepped up to protect people on the lowest incomes in our communities.
“But with the spread of coronavirus we all now face an unprecedented challenge and uncertain future.
“It is possible that foodbanks will face increased demand as people lose income, at the same time as food donations drop or staff and volunteers are unavailable due to measures rightly put in place to slow the spread of infection.
“All of this comes when foodbanks are already dealing with a record level of need for emergency food.
“We’re working with our network on how best to support people as the situation unfolds.
“Wherever possible, foodbanks will continue to provide the lifeline of emergency food to people unable to afford the essentials and we encourage the public to continue donating after checking with their local food bank what items are most needed.”
People can check which products their local foodbank needs by visiting: www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/
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